What is it about masterpieces of the great painters which fascinates us when we see their work? For me it is the ability of the artist to capture not only the mood, but the emotion of the scene with only a few brushstrokes. The artist’s point of view is crucial to the mood of the piece – in this picture by Sophie Anderson, ‘Take the Fair Face of Woman’, she has painted the woman so the viewer is seeing her as if from above. This made for a perspective which allowed the artist to show beauty and innocence – the subject looks up at us with clear eyes, unafraid and holds a small purse in her hands almost as if it is a gift she is offering us.
Unlike the artist, the author must paint a picture with words, and the mood of a tale is set in the ‘viewpoint’ of the one who is telling the tale. I sometimes like to read well written novels where the narrative is told as the conscious thoughts of one of the protagonists, or in the 1st person.
He drove me mad, Jeremy did, with his fingers drumming and his knee constantly twitching. Sitting across from him in our shared cubicle for eight hours a day, five days a week was an ordeal, but I endured it daily; indeed I had to, as my happy home-life depends on the salary Grantham and Werner Financial Consulting deposits into my bank account each Friday. Nevertheless, with each day he and his mannerisms wore on me a bit more, to the point I could barely be civil to him.
I swear I only wished him dead; I didn’t kill him. I would like to express my gratitude to whoever did it, but I suppose it would be impolite to do so with him lying there covered by his jacket to hide the mess his face has become. Still, while the police are busy, I find myself wondering why he was murdered in our cubicle, on a Saturday. What could have brought him to the office on that most sacred day of the week; the day devoted to mowing suburban lawns and backyard picnics with family and friends? I look at his desktop and see nothing, no clue as to what he’d died for.
We have the opening paragraphs of a mystery, told through the eyes and thoughts of one of the protagonists. We see Jeremy, and he isn’t really a pleasant person, but neither is our narrator. In two paragraphs we have set the scene, and been given a sketchy visual of the dead man – he is nervous, twitchy. We also know something of the narrator – he is married, a white-collar worker who only rates a shared cubicle, and is lucky to have it. This person is not a rising star and knows it, but he is an integral cog in the wheel of a financial consulting firm. Frequently our narrator has wished Jeremy would die, but never expected it would happen. Now he has become infected with a ‘why?’ and there is the heart of the story.
The viewpoint of the narrative is crucial in setting the mood of the story. I’m using the 3rd person viewpoint in all my current works in progress. An example of this point of view would be something like this:
The rock strewn trail was covered with slippery lichens and had few solid footholds. Each step of the way he struggled keep his footing. He feared both the height and the river’s overwhelming power, carefully leading his pony until at last he was once again on safe, dry, reasonably level ground. Once at the bottom of the cliff, he fervently thanked both God and lady luck. Allowing himself no time to rest, he mounted up and urged his pony forward into the forest. Hopefully, he’d lost the beast, but it was impossible to say. Dragons were notoriously single-minded, even flightless ones.
Here the reader views the protagonist’s adventure, and if it is well enough written, the reader will live it with the character. We know his environment and his thoughts through his actions and reactions. The pitfall with 3rd person point of view is the ease with which we can fall into telling and not showing.
What you want your tale to read like is up to you. Point of view is critical in setting the mood both when you are writing it and when it is being read. I find the first person point of view to be a little off-putting at first, but I always get into it after a while IF the story is bang-on from the first paragraph. I am always drawn to read stories which are told from the 3rd person’s point of view.